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What’s new in travel for 2007?

SmarterTravel

The new year will bring with it updates and news for every aspect of the travel industry. From new routes and possible airline mergers, to innovations in technology and brand-new websites, 2007 is shaping up to be an exciting time for travelers and the industry alike.

Airline mergers

These three possible mergers made news at the end of 2006, and are the ones to watch for early 2007. It’s anyone’s guess whether other airlines will jump into the merger pool later in the year.

US Airways and Delta

As 2007 starts, US Airways is still attempting its hostile takeover of Delta, while Delta continues to resist (even dedicating a website, Keep Delta My Delta, to its cause). Word of the possible merger [%1627013 | | spread in mid-November %], and though Delta has presented a plan to move forward out of bankruptcy as a standalone carrier, US Airways has not been deterred. Delta’s creditors, along with its management team and shareholders, will likely come to a decision on the merger in early 2007.

AirTran and Midwest

AirTran proposed a merger deal to Midwest in mid-December, in what an AirTran executive called an “unsolicited but friendly offer.” Midwest rejected the proposal a few days later. Early 2007 should prove interesting, however, because AirTran reportedly still plans to close the merger deal with Midwest by the end of the first quarter.

Northwest and Mesaba

A less controversial merger is also in the works for 2007. Northwest may acquire a regional partner, Mesaba, the details of which are still being discussed. A merger between the two “solves a number of problems: Mesaba’s future and Northwest’s need for a high-quality regional partner,” says an aviation consultant in a report on USAToday.com.

New airline routes

Domestic

  • American: American will link Austin and Seattle starting on April 10.
  • JetBlue: JetBlue‘s new Chicago service begins on January 4 with nonstop flights between O’Hare and Long Beach and also between O’Hare and New York’s JFK. Its Newburgh, NY, service is growing with new flights to West Palm Beach on January 5, and JetBlue is also introducing flights between Boston and Cancun starting on March 2.
  • Spirit: Spirit‘s Ft. Lauderdale hub is also undergoing a 2007 domestic expansion with new nonstop flights to Las Vegas and Myrtle Beach beginning February 15, and to Los Angeles starting on March 15.

Caribbean and Latin America

  • American: American Eagle, a regional affiliate of American, will begin flying to Cozumel from Miami on March 2.
  • Frontier: Continuing its 2006 Mexico expansion, Frontier will begin service from Sacramento and San Jose, CA, to Los Cabos, Mexico, in March.
  • Spirit: Spirit plans to introduce service to both St. Maarten and Caracas, Venezuela, from its Ft. Lauderdale hub. The airline filed with the Department of Transportation (DOT) for approval of the routes in late November, and if granted permission, will begin flying in 2007.

Europe

  • American: American is introducing new service between Chicago (O’Hare) and Shannon on May 1.
  • Icelandair: In 2007, Icelandair will bolster its number of flights by 17 percent, adding three and four afternoon departures to Reykjavik from New York (JFK) and Boston, respectively. It is also introducing Halifax-to-Iceland service, and has two new destinations for spring: Bergen, Norway; and Gothenburg, Sweden.
  • Lufthansa: In March, Lufthansa will start service from Denver to Munich. The three-class planes will offer the only first-class service available between Denver and Europe.
  • Virgin Atlantic: On April 23, Virgin Atlantic will begin service to its 10th U.S. gateway, Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

Asia

  • China: The DOT will approve one new flight to China in 2007, and four airlines are vying for the approval: United with its nonstop Washington-to-Beijing route, Northwest with nonstop service between Detroit and Shanghai, Continental with a nonstop Newark-to-Shanghai route, and American with direct service from Dallas (Ft. Worth) to Shanghai via Chicago (O’Hare).

Australia

  • Qantas: On March 26, Qantas is adding two additional flights per week from San Francisco to Sydney.

Tahiti

  • Air Tahiti Nui: On April 2, Air New Zealand will cease operating flights between Los Angeles and Papeete, and will instead offer codeshare flights operated by Air Tahiti Nui. In turn, Air Tahiti Nui will increase the number of weekly flights it offers between Los Angeles and Papeete to seven flights for most of the year, and eight during the peak season, June to October.

New requirements

Passports

Starting January 23, air travelers visiting the Caribbean, Bermuda, Canada, or Mexico (and all other international destinations) will need passports to return to the United States. Check our [%1653958 | | passport guide %] for information on how to get a passport for the first time or renew one that has expired.

Alaska cruise tax

As you may have heard, Alaska cruises will soon cost an [% 1304422 | | extra $50 %] per passenger. In August, Alaskans approved a bill that will tax each cruiser an extra $50, as well as taxing onboard gambling and enforcing stricter environmental guidelines for cruise lines. Cruises in 2006 were not affected, and it’s not yet certain whether all 2007 Alaska cruises will be, either. But, you can bet all 2008 Alaska cruises will cost an extra $50.

New technology

In-flight additions

For better or for worse, cell phones and wireless Internet connections are making their way onboard planes. This month, Emirates Airlines will launch the first in-flight cell phone capability. Callers will be charged international roaming rates, generally about $1 to $2 per minute. Qantas may follow suit later in the year, but U.S. carriers probably won’t offer the service this year, if at all.

Wi-fi is more of a possibility, however. A recent CNN report says 59 percent of airlines plan to have wireless Internet capability by spring of 2008.

Innovations in baggage tracking

Boston’s Logan airport will experiment with a new, high-tech baggage-tracking system this spring. The new system consists of “Bag tags embedded with unique patterns of metallic fibers that can be ‘read’ by electronic readers as they whiz by on conveyor belts at up to 25 miles per hour,” says a recent Boston Globe article. If successful, the system could significantly reduce the number of lost bags, which is something everyone—airlines, airport baggage-handlers, and travelers included—would like to see.

Registered Traveler program

The long-awaited Registered Traveler program may finally come to airports beyond Orlando in 2007. A little background: Registered travelers that provide “biometric and biographic information” to Transportation Security Administration-approved vendors will have access to expedited airport security lines for $99.95.

According to Fly Clear, a private company offering Registered Traveler identification cards, the New York (JFK); Cincinnati; Indianapolis; San Jose, California; and Toronto airports will “soon” offer Clear Registered Traveler lanes, but it remains to be seen exactly when that will happen.

New websites

ExpertFlyer.com

Although it has been around for a few years as a subscription-only website geared toward elite-level frequent flyers, a free “consumer version” of ExpertFlyer.com will be available to the masses later this year.

ExpertFlyer.com offers detailed information on flight availability and status, as well as seat maps. While much of this information is available on most airlines’ own websites, ExpertFlyer.com is unique in that it displays the different “fare buckets” available on any given flight, which can help travelers identify the tickets that are least expensive, most flexible, or easiest to upgrade. It also displays how many seats are left on each flight, which can help travelers determine if snagging a standby seat is possible—before arriving at the airport.

Currently, users can access ExpertFlyer.com for $4.99 to $9.99 per month. If you’re not a frequent flyer, it may be worth holding out until summer to check out the free version before you subscribe.

Lonely Planet Haystack

The guidebook publisher recently launched Lonely Planet Haystack, a hotel-booking website featuring properties recommended in its series of guidebooks. Listings on Haystack are by invitation only. After hotels are reviewed by a Lonely Planet guidebook author, they are recommended to join Haystack, and in turn, provide “great rates and live availability.”

Currently, Haystack has only a few properties for each of the cities or countries listed. For example, the USA section includes only 11 cities, each with one to six recommended hotels. The Asia section has only four countries so far, but three more will be added soon. But as the number of Haystack’s hotel listings grows, the website will likely become a valuable resource for travelers that trust Lonely Planet’s recommendations.

Travelocity’s ExperienceFinder

Travelocity is launching a beta version of ExperienceFinder, a new website that aims to guide travelers through every step of the travel experience, from dreaming to planning to booking. ExperienceFinder will have “themes” like adventure, entertainment, indulgence, and romance with information about activities, restaurants, and shows in a given destination. Users can book experiences on Travelocity, or select and compare several activities without booking by creating “wishlists” for future reference.

In addition to themes, ExperienceFinder will also have photos and videos of destinations, insider tips, and community discussions.

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